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Credibility and Contemporary Powerlifting

Has Powerlifting Lost its Credibility?

What happened to good old basic powerlifting attire?1

In recent years, the sport of powerlifting, arguably the best expression of pure strength, has seen a renaissance of raw and near-raw lifting. Yet, equipped lifting totals (ie – lifts completed wearing squat suits, bench shirts, etc) are still running rampant across the world wide web. So here's the question I ask, "Has equipped lifting ruined the general weight-training-enthusiast's perception of what is human strength capability as it exists in 2011?"

Ed Coan, one of powerlifting's all-time greats, has totaled just shy of 2500 pounds in the 242-pound class. Without naming names, we now have champions going over 2600 pounds in the 220-pound class. Eddie wore equipment in competition. Are the latest champs that much stronger, and at a lighter bodyweight, to boot? Not likely.

In any athletic endeavor, advances in performance amongst the best of the best usually occurs over extended periods of time. In no sport of modern times can such quick improvement be seen as is in powerlifting. Is it advances in training? Nutrition? Quality and availability of drugs and chemicals? To a degree, sure. But mostly it's because of the equipment.

Bench shirts, squat suits, etc. have come a long way, baby. Originally intended as injury-prevention clothing, equipment has become the stuff of sci-fi technology. It isn't unheard of to learn of lifters adding hundreds of pounds to their lifts using multi-ply gear. With specific use and training, putting two or three hundred pounds on your bench press and squat is very possible. The best benchers are putting up 6-700 pounds, raw. Equipped, anywhere between 8-1100-plus pounds. Do the math. Heck, world-class raw squatting (with anabolic drug use) still has guys deep-knee bending with “only” 7-900 (the latter poundage in very few instances). But going over a thousand is the norm in the big events.

This isn't rocket science. Why do you think, of the three power lifts, squat, bench press and deadlift, that the deadlift has seen the least improvement the past three or so decades? Up until recently, there was not much in the way of equipment to help an athlete pull more. It remained the purest lift in a sport becoming dominated with heavily-equipped lifting. However, now we have support gear adding weight to the deadlift, as well.

Forget the general public, even Joe Blow down at the gym is mostly unaware of all this tomfoolery in powerlifting (most average gym goers don't even know the difference between powerlifting, strongman and weightlifting), so his perception of what the best are lifting is massively skewed by all the hugely inflated lifts and totals posted on the internet and seen at places like YouTube.

There is such a large divide between raw and non-raw lifting that, to the average exerciser, when someone now makes claim to a 300-pound press, he might consider the accomplishment underwhelming, at best. Never mind that his best is likely a few crappola reps with 215 with his lifting buddy standing over him doing assisted bent rows. You get my drift.

A three-hundred-pound bench press, performed in a controlled manner and by a drug-free and raw lifter, is still very impressive. Four hundred? Beastly. Five? Has anyone ever done this? Maybe a very few freaks of nature. Those who have squatted over six using a walk-out (no monolift), moderate power/Olympic-style stance, and again, are drug-free and raw, will find themselves in a very exclusive category.

So has powerlifting lost its credibility? Will we ever return to a time when a stated lift doesn't have to be qualified with three minutes of explanation about what gear was used, what mechanics, if drugs played a role, and if tight and an old school judging standard was employed?


1 Created by Rhodney Carter. Accessed September 18, 2010 from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bar_bending.jpg

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Written on January 03, 2011 by Rob Fortney
Last Updated: December 27, 2013

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Robert Fortney is a veteran weight-training enthusiast who has competed successfully as both a bodybuilder and powerlifter. Fortress, as he is known within the industry, has a diploma in journalism, has served as assistant editor at MuscleMag International and managing editor at the legendary underground publication Peak Training Journal. Currently he can be found on the Iron Radio podcast. Fortress has trained with and befriended many of the top names in the global strength and muscle subculture. He is known for his highly technical and intense style of training, natural strength and no-holds-barred approach in his written work. His coaching services are avalable by clicking on the Strength Sport Consultation tab.